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It's Pi Day, and the world is celebrating ways that mathematics improves our lives.

Tuesday, 09 March 2021

On Sunday, 14 March 2021, the world will celebrate the second annual International Day of Mathematics (IDM). It is also known as Pi Day - the date, written as 3/14, is like the mathematical constant Pi that is approximately 3.14.

The International Mathematical Union leads the IDM project with the support of numerous international and regional organisations worldwide. Locally, the South African Mathematics Foundation (SAMF), its partners and sponsors, are getting ready to celebrate this year's theme: Mathematics for a Better World.

"Mathematics underpins all innovation in finance, engineering, and business," explains Prof Kerstin Jordaan, the executive director at the SAMF. "That is why one of our goals is to make a positive impact on the standard of mathematics teaching and learning."

As such, the SAMF co-ordinates various learner development and teacher empowerment initiatives throughout the year. The first learner development programme of 2021 is the Old Mutual South African Mathematics Olympiad (SAMO). High school learners started training for the competition at the various Siyanqoba regional training centres in January. Registered learners will write the first of three rounds of the Olympiad on 11 March. The Nestlé Nespray South African Mathematics Challenge (SAMC) for primary school learners is from 15 to 19 March.

"The Wits Siyanqoba Mathematics Olympiad Centre plans to do various activities with their groups to celebrate Pi Day," says Dr Belinda Huntley. She holds the education portfolio at the South African Mathematics Society (SAMS). "The session will be online on Google Meet. For the juniors in Grades 8 to 10, we plan to play the game 'Kahoots' with questions based on Pi Day. For the seniors in Grades 11 and 12, we plan to focus on problem-solving questions that use irrational numbers like Pi."

The University of Pretoria (UP) will also host discussions to celebrate Pi Day. "We will stream the programme live on our YouTube channel," explains Eder Kikianty, a senior lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at UP. "The event is targeted at anyone interested in mathematics."

Speakers for the event are Professor Jacek Banasiak (Title of lecture: Applied Mathematics, Past, Present and Future) and Professor James Raftery (Title of talk: Logic and Mathematical Discovery. A panel discussion with both speakers and three other panelists - Professors Kerstin Jordaan, Bernardo Rodrigues, and Jan Harm van der Walt - will follow the lectures. Some afternoon activities include a mathematics quiz, Rubik's cube contest, and mathematical puzzles. Detailed information can be found on their website:

https://www.up.ac.za/mathematics-and-applied-mathematics/article/2955064/up-international-day-of-mathematics-2021

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) is also hosting an online programme in celebration of the IDM. "We have partnered with Northcliff Rotary Club, UNICEF and Africa Teen Geeks to maximise our reach to high school learners," says Dr Cerene Rathilal at UJ's Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. "Our aim on the day is to promote mathematics and inspire young minds. The programme includes fun talks by mathematicians and interactive activities via Zoom” (https://forms.gle/GYoRCy5cvsN4W2Yu7).

Soshan Soobramoney, a lecturer of Actuarial Science at the University of Johannesburg, states that "mathematics is foundational to STEM careers. It lays the foundation for learners to employ critical thinking, which is good for South Africa's economy. The SAMF is also rectifying the imbalance of access to quality mathematics education."

Prof Jordaan encourages schools to participate in the IDM's ventures that include live talks, a 48-hour live blog, and various activities. For more information about the IDM, visit its website at www.idm314.org.

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